Armed men on rooftops who mostly refuse to identify themselves not only endanger lives, in my view, but they intimidate Americans’ right to free speech and assembly.
These militia are not trained in crowd control, deescalation tactics, implicit bias or other skills needed to protect citizens. They likely don’t know what actions by demonstrators are permitted under the law, but instead take it upon themselves to determine who looks suspicious, who poses a threat and perhaps even who deserves to be shot.
This is similar to the mindset that led armed white men in Georgia to kill Ahmaud Arbery after they decided that, because of his skin color, he looked suspicious and didn’t belong in their neighborhood.
The sight of militia on roofs is troubling enough, but Elizabethtown police Chief Edward Cunningham’s response is just as disturbing. Rather than identifying these anonymous gunmen or dispersing them to ensure they did not incite violence, Cunningham requested “a very discrete signal” so that his police officers “would know who these security persons would be.”
What might Cunningham have done had he learned that dozens of Black Lives Matter supporters planned to brandish guns as they walked the streets? Would he have given them the same considerations or ceded his department’s responsibility to keep the peace?
Thankfully, the militia found no excuse to use their guns during the Elizabethtown demonstration. But if we allow untrained and anonymous gunmen with no accountability to patrol our right to assemble, it is only a matter of time until innocent people — and America’s democracy — are irreparably harmed.